When air travel is restricted how do humanitarian workers get to where they are needed most?

The European Union partners with WFP and UNHAS to provide humanitarian air transport in Kenya and beyond.

UNHAS has flights to both Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. Photo: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

In early April the Government of Kenya effected movement restrictions from and into the Nairobi Metropolitan Zone in a bid to control the spread of COVID-19. However essential workers such as humanitarian staff, were authorized to travel by the Government with strict adherence to laid out safety procedures.

Thankfully the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation funded flights, managed by the World Food Programme (WFP) leveraging existing partnerships and collaborations built by the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) so that humanitarian cargo and staff could continue to access remote communities.

Air transport remains a critical component of the European Union’s humanitarian response in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, in Kenya, DRC and Mali, where inadequate infrastructure, insecurity, vast distances and lack of viable commercial air transport options necessitate the establishment of a humanitarian air transport service.

In Kenya, regular flights started at the end of May to the refugee camps in Kakuma and Dadaab, transporting the first group of essential humanitarian workers since the Government enforced the partial lockdown. This was the first flight carrying passengers between Nairobi and the camps in almost two months.

Passengers checking in at Wilson Airport, Nairobi. Photo: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

Refugees living in Dadaab and Kakuma camps are some of the most pandemic-prone populations owing to congestion and fragile health infrastructure. Here, EU Humanitarian Aid is supporting different partners implementing health and nutrition projects.

Passengers sanitise their hands before boarding. Photo: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

On the first two rotations, the flight transported 59 passengers on the Nairobi — Dadaab and Nairobi — Kakuma routes, mostly workers supporting health and nutrition services in the refugee camps. During this pandemic, it is paramount to keep the flow of essential medical supplies and workers uninterrupted.

Social distancing is observed on the plane. Photo: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

WFP/UNHAS has put strict hygiene measures in place to protect the passengers and the crew from COVID-19. The aircraft is disinfected on a daily basis, social distance is ensured in the seating arrangement and passengers must wear masks at all time.

Passengers board an ECHO flight in Kivu. Photo: ECHO/Luke Denniso

ECHO Flight operates passenger and cargo services in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and in Mali. The service is also able to respond promptly to small humanitarian emergencies, medical and security evacuations.

In addition to running its own fleet, the EU funds UNHAS in Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen.

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